In today’s gospel, the Jewish religious leaders are concerned about the source of Jesus’ authority to teach. These leaders know that if the prophet or teacher is speaking on God’s behalf, then that prophet’s or teacher’s message is trustworthy and should be acted upon. According to Jewish literature, there are four ways of responding to authority. We see two of these options in the parable.
First we see a way of responding to authority in which one first rejects the authority but later reconsiders and obeys the teaching. The first son in the parable said “no” but then reconsidered and did what he was told to do. This possible response calls us to humility: when have we, as church, at first rejected God’s authority and command, but later changed and lived accordingly?
The second way of responding to authority is to seem to accept the authority but not really accept it as binding. The second son in the parable said “yes” but then did not do what he was told to do. This possible response asks us to be honest with ourselves: in what ways do we, as church, say that we respect Jesus’ authority but don’t live it out with our actions?
The other two ways of responding to authority were being lived by the people that Jesus either speaks to or about after the parable. The third way of responding to authority is seen in the religious leaders: They have shown by their answer and their lives that they do not accept Jesus’ authority. They are consistent in their “no” to Jesus in word and action. But the fourth way of responding to authority is seen in the lives of the people whom the religious leaders consider to be outside the boundaries of the community. They are consistent in their spoken and lived out “yes” to Jesus’ authority and, as a result, are living in right relationship with God. This possible response calls us to look outside our gathering. Who do we, as this community of the church, marginalize even though they say “yes” to Jesus’ authority and live into this “yes”? How can we offer these Christians hospitality?